Ever since Thomas Johnson published THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON (1955) and THE COMPLETE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON (1960), Dickinson enthusiasts have hoped that more poems by this mysterious wordsmith would surface. They mused that surely in a trunk in someone’s attic or in the drawer of a long-forgotten desk must rest yellowed packets of poems by this elusive poet. Until the publication of Shurr’s book, however, their wait was fruitless.
A Dickinson scholar who earlier published THE MARRIAGE OF EMILY DICKINSON (1983), William Shurr, as he studied Thomas Johnson’s THE LETTERS OF EMILY DICKINSON (1955), became aware of the poetry inherent in the letters’ prose passages, which also contained poetry written stanzaically, some already published in Johnson’s collections.
Through stylistic and metrical analysis, Shurr, ever looking for the “fourteeners” (a line of iambic tetrameter followed by one of iambic trimeter) of which Dickinson was fond, found poetic lines that fell into the five categories around which this volume is organized: epigrams (207 identified); prose formatted poems (129 identified); miscellaneous forms in which riddles predominate (130 identified); rough drafts or workshop materials (seventeen identified); and juvenilia (eleven identified).
Although Shurr has not discovered the mother lode of new Dickinson poems that many dream of and although some may quarrel with his method of classification and identification, his approach is inventive, scrupulous, and intelligent. The 498 new poems he and his collaborators have unearthed expand by nearly one-third the number of poems in the slim Dickinson canon. Shurr’s method suggests interesting avenues for future literary detectives to explore.